READI 2.0 Top Legislative Priority for the Region
On Monday, January 9, the Indiana General Assembly will convene for its 2023 Legislative Session. The state’s 50 Senators and 100 Representatives will huddle through the end of April as they consider Indiana’s priorities over the next few years.
The top of the priority list for the general assembly every two years is the adoption of the biennial State budget. The state budget each year is about $46 billion.
The line of people advocating for budget priorities may stretch around the block and through downtown Indianapolis. A $6+ billion budget surplus last year led to taxpayer refunds for all. But this time around advocates are eyeing some new spending priorities that could meet pressing needs or help stimulate economic growth. READI 2.0 is one of the priorities our region hopes gets a lot of attention.
During the development of the budget in 2021, legislators earmarked $500 million to catalyze regional economic development in the state through a program called Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI.
Seventeen regions were awarded funds and more than 800 projects were proposed, which the State hoped might lead to more than $15 billion in new investments in the Hoosier state. Could another $500 million earmark in the 2023 legislative session catalyze $15 billion in additional investments across the state? Lawmakers will try to answer that question.
READI came on the heels of the Regional Cities Program in 2015, where three regions were awarded state dollars to match private and local public investment in key projects. At the heart of both programs was a matching grant program, led largely by private capital investment, that would help make quality-of-place improvements in communities that would help catalyze population growth.
The South Bend-Elkhart Region, which includes St. Joseph, Elkhart, and Marshall Counties, was a beneficiary of both programs, capturing $43 million in state funds in Regional Cities and $50 million in state funds in READI 1.
Now leaders in our region are hoping for a third win as the legislature contemplates READI 2.0. And we’ll know by April 29 if that next phase will become a reality. Should it get funded in the budget, a competitive process will follow where regions could once again share economic growth plans in hopes of another grant award in the next phase of the program.
In addition to quality-of-place investments in the region, Regional Cities and READI also incentivized regional collaboration, something that hadn’t happened too much across the state as cities, towns, and regions often competed more than they collaborated.
Locally, projects like the Mill in Mishawaka, Howard Park, the South Shore Double Track project, the Elkhart Aquatic Center, the Ethos Science Center, Studebaker Factory reuse, Commerce Center Mixed-use Development, and Goshen Theater benefitted from Regional Cities.
Earlier this year projects like the Ariel Cycleworks in Elkhart County, the Morris Performing Arts Center, the Mishawaka Fieldhouse, the Marshall County Career Innovation Center, the Beacon Integrated Health and Lifestyle District in South Bend, the Potawatomi Zoo, and the Wellfield Visitor Center in Elkhart received READI funds.
Indiana is in a battle to attract top talent and realizes there is a direct correlation between that job and the quality of communities that talent might be considering. Jobs remain a critical piece of the recipe, but housing, recreational amenities, art, culture, trails, and other places to gather and things to do also play a critical role.
Indiana’s previous investments in Regional Cities and READI have netted big returns in communities across the state, especially ours. But our work isn’t finished, and READI 2.0 could leverage the needed additional public and private capital investment that could help us win that talent attraction battle. The decision lies in the hands of the General Assembly in this coming session.